Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blogger bait part two

My second "I took the bait" post about this month's Poets and Writers concerns the cover. P&W gives them this front-cover line: "Four next-generation agents reveal what they love, what they hate, and ten things writers should never do." The list enumerates glitches that are hallmarks of the uninitiated, such as sending letters addressed "Dear Agent," gushing about how Oprah will love this book, sighing about how many times they've been rejected before, etc.

But why would anyone in publishing complain about this? Such mistakes are harmless enough, and it's not as though we don't all see them. Can't people be given room to learn? In fairness, I think the agents were just answering the question (after a bit of wine... it was a dinner interview). It was P&W's editorial decision to go the classic "never-ever," ruler-on-knuckles direction.

I have always loved the words of that great man of letters, Lewis Lapham, who once said that he received submissions to Harper's "with gratitude." I suggest that is how the literary profession should treat the submission letters or e-mails that come our way. Instead of instructing them on how they should dare approach the throne (the belly crawl? or perhaps the miserable grovel with a flourish?), we might consider remaining ever grateful that would-be authors think well enough of us -- and of their art -- to even try. If they get it wrong, we could simply bless them with the kindest words we can muster. (After all, even the least likely may become bestselling authors one day -- and here I think of Tennessee Williams, who legend says began with few social skills and spoke like a yokel when he first approached super-agent Audrey Wood, and who was known to write dialogue on cocktail napkins.)

We don't live long, any of us, and our relationships would benefit from more mutual ease and forgiveness, and fewer "don't" lists, especially from writer-focused magazines.

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